The Rationale of Reward

Book I

Of Rewards in General

Chapter IX


Factitious reward is superfluous, whenever natural reward is adequate to produce the desired effect.

Under this head may be classed all inventions in the arts, which are useful to individuals, and whose products may become articles of commerce. In the ordinary course of commerce, the inventor will meet with a natural reward exactly proportionate to the utility of his discovery, and which will unite within itself all the qualities which can be desired in a factitious reward. After the most mature consideration, no sovereign can find another measure so exact as is thus afforded by the free operations of trade. All that the government has to do is to secure for a time, to the inventor, whatever benefit his discovery may yield. This is generally done by the grant of an exclusive privilege or patent. Of this we shall elsewhere speak more in detail.

Not many years ago a grant of £3000 was made by parliament to a physician for the discovery of a yellow dye. That money might, without doubt, have been worse employed. But the reward was unnecessary: for this discovery, as for all others in the arts, the proper test of its utility would have been its use in manufactures and commerce. The grant of a determinate sum was a loss either to the inventor or to the public: to the inventor, if it were less than he would have gained under a patent: to the public, if it were more. In a word, wherever patents for inventions are in use, factitious reward is either groundless or superfluous.

I shall elsewhere treat of the encouragements to be given to the arts and sciences. Upon the present occasion, all that I shall observe is, that the greater the progress they have made, the less necessary is it to tax the public for their support. In this country, for example, if the exclusive property in his work be secured to an author, a reward is at the same time secured to him proportionate to the service he has performed---at least in every branch of amusement or instruction that yields a sufficient class of readers. There is no patron to be compared with the public; and by the honour with which it accompanies the other rewards it bestows, this patronage has a decided advantage over any that can be received from sny other source.

With respect to the rewards that in some European states have been bestowed upon poets, the amount of them is so insignificant as to save them from the severe scrutiny to which they might, under other circumstances, have found themselves exposed. There are some countries in which the relish for literature is confined to such small numbers, that it may, upon the whole, be beneficial to encourage it by factitious rewards. But if we consider how intense are the enjoyments of the man born with poetic talents, the sudden reputation which they produce, and the ample profit they often yield, especially in the dramatic line, it will be found that the natural rewards attached to them are far from being inconsiderable; and that, at least, our attention ought, in the first place, to be directed to the department of the sciences, the approaches to which are repulsive, and the utility of which is indisputable. Happiness depends upon the correctness of the facts with which our mind is furnished, and the rectitude of our judgment; but poetry has no very direct tendency to produce either correctness of knowledge or rectitude of judgment. For one instance in which it has been employed to combat mischievous prejudices, a thousand might be cited in which they have been fostered and propagated by it. Homer is the greatest of poets: where shall we place him among moralists? Can any great advantage be derived from the imitation of his gods and heroes? I do not condemn prizes for poetry where the object is to excite youthful emulation: I only desire that serious and truly useful pursuits may receive a proportionate encouragement.

[RR, Book I, Chapter VIII] [RR, Book I, Chapter X]